There is little doubt that New Zealand will look back with satisfaction on their just concluded tour of India. They came here as underdogs. After all no New Zealand side had won a Test series in India and only one out of six previous touring sides had managed to level a rubber in this country. If anything, their performances in one day internationals in India was even worse. Given this background, the fact that they held their own in two of the three Tests and lost only at Kanpur when the wicket conditions were loaded against them, speaks well of their resolve. And the fact that they carried the five match one day contest into the decider before going down is enough testimony of their skill and reputation in the one day game.
I had analysed the Test series at the end of the three match contest. Here I shall concentrate on the one day series. Given the background of results between the two countries here, India were favoured to win comfortably. This, despite the fact that New Zealand were the World Cup semifinalists while India had only just about made it to the super six stage. First, in this country, India are always tough to beat. Then, the home team also looked a pretty formidable side. The batting was particularly strong and the bowling paled only by comparison. New Zealand too were a good one day side with a solid if unspectacular batting line up, a world class all rounder in Chris Cairns and some honest trundlers.
And yet though India won the series by three matches to two, New Zealand could pat themselves on the back for a really creditable performance. Of course the fourth match was won against an Indian attack shorn of Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad and Kumble. But the fact that they forced the Indians to press the panic button and recall Srinath for the decider was a sort of moral victory for them. It must also not be forgotten that they lost the third ODI at Gwalior by a narrow margin and registered a meritorious victory in the first game at Rajkot. Nathan Astle must have come close to bagging the man of the series award. With scores of 120 and 97 in the first and third games, he was a front runner and it was only a lapse of form in the last two matches and a late surge by Saurav Ganguly that saw the Indian speed off with the new car.
New Zealand were also handicapped by the loss of Dion Nash who virtually did not play in the series, having been injured in the first over of the Rajkot game. Drum, Tait and Styris could not adequately fill the breach and under the circumstances the pressure was a bit too much on Cairns and Vettori. The New Zealand batting rose to the occasion with some purple patches at Rajkot, Gwalior and Guwahati. At Hyderabad and New Delhi however the visitors were thoroughly outplayed. In retrospect, it was the manner in which they squandered a victory chance at Gwalior that ultimately saw New Zealand lose a series which they could well have won.
From the Indian viewpoint, perhaps they too can look back with some satisfaction at having scored a hard fought victory over worthy opponents and in the process providing some memorable moments for the spectators. Even though the bowlers gave away too many runs at Rajkot, the batsmen, led by Ajay Jadeja did not give in without a fight. At Hyderabad, of course the regal batting of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid provided some of the most memorable moments in the history of Indian one day cricket. At Gwalior, it was the turn of Saurav Ganguly to unleash an unbridled onslaught on the bowling. And at New Delhi it was again Ganguly who played a vital knock.
Indeed, if anything, the series again proved that the team is rather overdependant on the terrific trio of Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly. It was significant that when the three failed at Rajkot and Guwahati, the Indians lost. Jadeja and Robin came up with timely contributions at Rajkot and Gwalior but it is not a healthy sign when a team depends so much on three batsmen. But then this has been the case for some time now. There was nothing very notable about the bowling and of particular dismay was the manner in which the attack was treated with the utmost disdain at Rajkot. Here too, the series proved that too much hinges on Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad and Kumble. And when the trio did not play, the match at Guwahati was lost. The silver lining however was the bowling of debutant T Kumaran. The strong lad from Tamil Nadu showed admirable control over line and length and his speed and particularly the movement he obtained off the pitch was quite disconcerting for the New Zealanders.